Many are familiar with John’s account of the sickness, death, and miraculous resurrection of Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother. Likely, many of us have also pondered over one of the most well-known verses in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (Jn. 11:35). We can know that Christ was truly sorrowful here, to the point of showing intense grief, as the Greek word for “wept” indicates the actual shedding of tears. While at first glance, we may quickly conclude that Jesus felt intense grief over the loss of His dear friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:5, 11), and perhaps the sorrow of Mary and Martha (Jn. 11:33), we may also see several additional possibilities for Jesus’ expression of emotion. Considering these possibilities can open the door for us to learn more about the nature of our Lord, as well as how we ourselves can imitate Him and His heart for souls.
First, we can clearly see Jesus’ humanity on display. Indeed, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (Jn. 1:14, NASB). Many have tried to wrap their minds around the profound truth that Jesus was both wholly God and wholly man – and yet, we realize that because God is God and we are not, we would do well to simply know this truth by faith in what has been revealed (Jn. 20:31; Phil. 2:6-11). Because Jesus partook in flesh and blood and was made like us in all things (Heb. 2:14, 17), it makes sense that Jesus would feel the same emotions that all human beings feel, especially in such a sorrowful time as Lazarus’ sickness and death. Even some of the Jews nearby witnessed His emotion as they observed, “See how He loved him!” (Jn. 11:36).
We read of several other instances in Scripture when Jesus shed tears out of intense emotion. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He was so “deeply grieved” and “in agony” that “His sweat became like drops of blood” (Matt. 26:38; Lk. 22:44). The Hebrews writer describes it like this: “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death…” (Heb. 5:7). Jesus also wept for those in Jerusalem who would not know “the things which make for peace” (Lk. 19:41-44).
Second, we can see Jesus’ sympathy and love for His fellow man. The truth of Christ being our high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) is evident even here as He makes effort to go to Bethany, speaks with Mary and Martha, grieves along with them, and raises Lazarus from the dead (Jn. 11:7-44). However, perhaps even more compelling is His motive: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was” (Jn. 11:5-6, emphasis added). Just one verse before, Jesus reveals His purpose for delaying: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (Jn. 11:4). A few verses later, Jesus explains to His disciples, “…”I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe…” (Jn. 11:14). Then, just before raising Lazarus, Jesus prays to the Father, “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 11:42).
All those around Him – the disciples, the sisters, the Jews – had questioned His motives, and even, His power (Jn. 11:8, 21, 32, 37). However, “It was not a question about His power, but rather His purpose” (Wacaster, 22). The original word for “loved” in verse 5 is agape, the strongest Greek word for love. “It describes a love that is considerate of the well-being of another; a love that is devoted and willing to sacrifice” (Wacaster, 6). We ourselves experience this love shown at its deepest level in Christ’s own sacrifice for us (Rom. 5:8). And so, motivated by agape, Jesus was doing the hard, but better thing in delaying to come to Bethany. Jesus knew it was better for them to wait and see God glorified – and thus believe in Him – through Lazarus’ resurrection than through an instant healing, as they would have desired. Guy N. Woods put it this way: “Delay, by deity, in granting a favor is not a denial of it; often, it is to provide occasion for a greater one. Not infrequently, when our petitions are not granted it is because the Lord is withholding the less in order to bestow the greater blessing” (Woods, 229).
Third, we can see Jesus’ attitude toward sin and its effects. Truly, sin is man’s greatest problem and greatest destroyer: “…and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (Js. 1:15). Sin brings with it great strife in life, but can also result in both physical death and spiritual death. When Jesus saw Mary and the Jews with her grieving, “He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled” (Jn. 11:38). The NKJV renders Christ as having “groaned in spirit.” The word here for “deeply moved” or “groaned” means “to have indignation on, or to sigh with chagrin” (Strong). This word conveys anger, and as Guy N. Woods observes, perhaps an anger “with death itself which brought such sorrow to himself and to the sisters whom he loved.” The atmosphere of grief and death and its effect upon those closest to Him could have reminded our Lord of the devastation that sin and death brings upon humanity and ignited a righteous indignation against life’s greatest enemy. To add to that, some of the Jews were skeptical of Jesus’ ability to even raise Lazarus, and their unbelief seemed to have provoked Christ’s anger even further (Jn. 11:37-38).
In times past, our Creator has shown this same attitude towards sin and the damaging effects it causes. Genesis 6:6 records, “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” After recounting Israel’s rebellion and ignorance of His ways, God said of them, “Therefore I swore in My anger, truly they shall not enter into My rest” (Ps. 95:11). When Jesus encountered the Jews trying to accuse Him as He healed a man with a withered hand, the text says that “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand’” (Mk. 3:1-5). We also read in Ephesians 4:30 that we can “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” when we sin. God takes sin seriously – to such an extent that it arouses His deepest emotion and most dangerous judgment (Heb. 10:29-31).
What can we learn from this account in John 11? First, we can see ourselves reflected in the humanity described here. It is natural for us to feel and express emotion – it is part of how God created us in His image. All of us, in some way or another, experience the pain and grief that tragedy and death bring, just like Mary, Martha, and the Jews did (Jn. 11:19, 33). We ought not feel ashamed or hesitant to feel or express such emotions; we know that Jesus Himself has felt them and can sympathize with us and comfort us like no one else can (Heb. 2:14, 17; 4:15).
Second, we can learn to imitate Christ’s agape love for our fellow man. Perhaps this was part of what the group of Jews felt and acted upon as they went to Mary and Martha to console them after Lazarus had died (Jn. 11:19). We as Christians are instructed to “love [agape] your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) and to “love [agape] one another” as Christ Himself has loved us (Jn. 15:12). This attitude is played out as we empathize with others and “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). We’re also encouraged to “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are also in the body” (Heb. 13:3). One purpose for experiencing trials and grief in this life is so that we will be able to act like God and comfort others in their affliction (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
Finally, we can be motivated to be angered at sin and its effects on humanity. As we take on the mind and purpose of Christ, we also take on His enemy (1 Jn. 3:4-7). James teaches, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom” (Js. 4:8b-9). We generally don’t like conflict and try to avoid negative feelings as much as possible – and yet, in order to have the correct view of sin, we must see it for what it is and allow it to create the proper response within us. As Paul writes, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!” (2 Cor. 7:9-11a). A godly sorrow for sin will not only lead to our salvation, but also ignite in us a strength for standing against the wiles of the devil and a passion for spreading God’s saving truth (Eph. 6:10-17).
As we consider Jesus and His grief in the event of Lazarus’ death, may we come away with a renewed sense of awe at both His humanity and deity, His great love as well as His wrath. May we be inspired ourselves to give thanks for Christ’s empathy with us, imitate His love toward others, and allow a righteous indignation for sin to spur us on in the great spiritual battle in which we are engaged – knowing that Jesus Himself has already gained the victory.
The Magnificence of Jesus: A Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. II, by Tom Wacaster
John, by Guy N. Woods
Strong’s Definitions, by Dr. James Strong
By Kayla Barker Martinez
Kayla Barker Martinez lives with her husband, Andrew, in south Texas where he ministers to the youth in the local church. Aside from writing about God’s Word and its importance for Christian women today, she enjoys homemaking, embroidering, and reading.